The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre kicked off Winnipeg’s 20th annual Master Playwright Festival with a 1960s-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It starring a talented cast of exceptional singers. Director Daryl Cloran created a playful adaptation, blending 25 of the Beatles’s hits — including “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Let It Be” and “Here Comes the Sun” — throughout the 16th-century comedy.
The production is delightfully embellished by the vibrant, colourful costumes fitting for the time period designed by Carmen Alatorre and the fun, colourful spectacle of lighting by Gerald King for most of the musical numbers.
However, as much fun as a romp through the ’60s Shakespeare-style can be, for a purist the choice of time period seems strange with nothing linking Shakespeare’s comedy intrinsically to the free-loving, hippie days of the 1960s. The play itself ends in a bevy of marriages — not a very “groovy” or “sticking it to the institution” conclusion to a potentially radical ’60s-style adaptation of the comedy.
As for the language aspect of the play, Cloran sticks with the original text, leaving an awkward relationship between old and modern.
The Shakespearean language mixed with the modern language of the Beatles’s songs can come off as jarring, leaving the song placements feeling a little too random — slicing modernity into the 16th-century poetic language.
Regardless of where the music was placed, the live band was incredible. The blend of voices and instruments made for enjoyable and energetic musical renditions of the Beatles’s music.
“Let It Be” was the most memorable, the talent of the band and cast creating a less sombre version than traditional renditions of the musical classic.
The performances from the cast members were also stellar, even more so with their ability to dive in and out of the Bard’s and the Beatles’s English.
The most memorable performance from the cast was Sarah Constible in her gender-bending role as Jaques, the discontented lord of exiled Duke Senior’s court.
Constible’s acting makes Jaques’s role in the play more interesting than the main love quadrangle itself. Her melancholy is perfectly articulated while delivering the “All the world’s a stage” speech, punctuating her incredible performance.
The other highlights of the play include performances by Paul Essiembre, Jameela McNeil and Lindsey Angell.
Essiembre plays both brothers — the usurper Duke Frederick and the exiled Duke Senior — accomplishing the daunting task with ease.
McNeil’s performance as Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia and Angell’s performance as Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind were delightful, bringing strong performances to an interesting take on the Bard’s comedy.
In the end, Cloran’s adaptation of As You Like It has more positive than negative attributes.
For a Shakespeare purist, it felt more like a Beatles musical on Broadway, though this characteristic led to a fun time at the theatre.
As You Like It runs until Feb. 1 at the John Hirsch Mainstage.